HIV and AIDS: A Helpful Guide to Understanding the Disease
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that is spread when an infected person’s body fluids, such as blood, semen, fluids from the vagina or breast milk enters another person’s bloodstream. It can enter a person’s bloodstream through linings in the mouth, anus, penis, vagina or broken skin.
This life-threatening virus weakens a person’s ability to fight infection and cancer. Having HIV doesn’t always mean a person will develop AIDS, although most do. And, you can have HIV without symptoms for many years and unknowingly spread it to others.
HIV attacks and destroys a certain type of white blood cell whose main function is to fight disease. When the white blood cell count gets too low, the body can’t fight infections.
The only way to know if you have HIV is to have a blood test.
What is AIDS?
AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is the last stage of HIV infection. There is no cure for HIV or AIDS, but with the latest advancements in treatment, a person can live a productive life for many years by getting good medical care from doctors experienced in treating people with HIV/AIDS.
Risk Factors in Spreading HIV
- Unprotected sex: This means having vaginal, anal or oral sex with a person infected with HIV without using a condom and spermicide.
- Direct contact with an infected person with blood or blood products through moist areas such as the mouth, rectum, vagina or open wounds.
- Blood transfusion from an infected person.
- Sharing needles and syringes from an infected person to inject drugs or steroids.
- Using dirty needles for body piercing or tattoos.
- Breast feeding if the mother is HIV positive.
How to Protect Yourself
- Practice safe sex by using latex (rubber) condoms, not condoms manufactured from animal products, whenever having vaginal, anal or oral sex.
- Know your partner’s HIV status. There is no guarantee that the use of condoms and spermicides will prevent you from getting HIV or other infections, but it greatly reduces the incidence.
- Never share needles.
- Avoid excessive use of alcohol and/or illegal substances – you are less likely to protect yourself and use good judgment.
For more information about HIV/AIDS and other related health risks, listed below are resources available to you:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
HIV Health and Human Services Planning Council of New York
New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene